Black Violin, a quartet led by two string players that melds musical styles from classical to funk to hip hop

How it got its start
Kevin Sylvester (Kev Marcus) and Wilner Baptiste (Wil B) were introduced to violin and viola, respectively, while youngsters. Sylvester’s mother signed him up for music classes in fifth grade, and despite initial reluctance—he didn’t think the violin was cool—he eventually grew to enjoy it. Baptiste, meanwhile, originally wanted to learn saxophone, but when he signed up for summer band, he was put into a string class. What was assumed for years to be a mistake turned out to be the result of a golf bet between the band teacher and the orchestra instructor, who each wanted Baptiste in their class. The two met in high school orchestra and became fast friends. After graduating from Dillard High School for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, Sylvester went on to Florida International University and Baptiste matriculated at Florida State University. Upon graduation, the two joined forces and began to formulate their musical synthesis, built upon their classical training. They named their group for an album by swing violinist Stuff Smith.

Black Violin City Opera House

Photo by Lisa Leone

A meld of classical and hip hop, with nods to jazz, funk, even bluegrass

But wait, there’s more
Black Violin’s career took off following an appearance with Alicia Keys at the 2004 Billboard Awards and winning the talent show “Showtime at the Apollo” in 2005. The group averages 200 shows a year and has appeared in 36 countries, from Dubai and the Czech Republic to South Africa. Stateside, the duo has performed at official NFL celebrations for three Super Bowls and the U.S. Open in Forest Hills with Jordin Sparks. Their groundbreaking collaboration has seen them play their music for everybody from the troops in Iraq to both the official President’s Inaugural Ball in 2013 and the Kids Inaugural in Washington, D.C. Individually and together, Black Violin has collaborated with the likes of P. Diddy, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin and The Eagles. They’ve even appeared on Public Broadcasting’s Angelina Ballerina. Their most recent disc, Stereotypes, features 11 original tunes, as well as a funky, mostly instrumental cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic “Walk on By.”

“Black Violin works hard, but makes it all look like play … Sometimes they play with the intense seriousness of orchestral soloists; at others they fiddle as if at a hoedown; at still others they strum the violin and viola like guitars.” –  The New York Times

“I remember this one woman comes up to me—she has to be like a 60, 65-year-old white woman—and she’s just like, ‘Man, I don’t even really like hibbity-hop, but you guys are amazing!’” – Kev Marcus

City Opera House, Traverse City

Date & Time
February 16, 7:30 p.m.

Ticket information
Tickets are sold out. Contact the City Opera House at 231.941.8082 for the waiting list, or check StubHub.

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Photo(s) by Colin Brennan